SAN FRANCISCO (USA TODAY) -- The hottest food trends this year: all things coconut,exotic oils, beer-laced products, regional heritage foods, herby drinks andspicy sweets.
That's what 18,000-plus buyers found this week at the Winter Fancy Food Showin San Francisco. Each year, buyers for upscale delicatessens, groceries andshops scope out the newest thing in the cavernous Moscone Center, which forthree days turns into the biggest, most over-the-top snack party imaginable.
More than 1,300 companies display and offer tastings of their wares, vying toentice buyers with Italian cheeses and California jelly beans, and making foraysinto Korean seaweed snacks and artisanal pickles from New Jersey.
Buyers come from around the country to see what's hot. Some are from fartherafield. Rajeev Lee and Allen Smith were scouting out new products for Mayburydeli-supermarket in Dubai.
"We cater to a lot of ex-pats, and these are the foods they want," Leesaid.
This years big trends:
Coconut. In canned juice or as an ingredient or simply a dried,unsweetened snack, coconut was legion at the show. Pouring tastes as fast as hecould, Benny San Andres of Sun Tropics of San Ramon, Calif., talked up the clearliquid's healthful properties. "One can has the potassium of five-and-a-halfbananas," he said of the juice his company imported from Thailand.
Vegetable and fruit oils. You use olive oil, once bought walnut oiland tasted truffle oil. But how about Austrian pumpkin seed oil? Or tomato seedoil? Or cherry pit oil or chili seed oil? Marietta De Angelo spent a year as anexchange student on a farm in Neuruppersdorf, Austria. There she learned to lovepumpkin seed oil, which is drizzled on anything from salad to vanilla ice cream(really). She and her husband now run Culinary Imports in Rowley, Mass., andimport the oil. They also sell cherry seed oil -- "good on fish and ham" -- andtomato oil -- "great in salad dressing," she says.
Beer as an ingredient. The past several decades have seen a resurgencein the art of brewing. Now beer is making its way into foods, such as the BeerFlats crackers from Daelia's Food in Cincinnati. The crackers come in porter andpilsner flavors. For serious beer lovers, there's Beer Candy from Santa Clara,Calif. Computer programmer and longtime brewer Steve Casselman started makingbeer candy a few years ago and has branched out into beer jelly. It is strongstuff -- no slight beer taste here. A spoonful of jelly tastes like a seriousswig of strong stout. "It's really good on pancakes," Casselman said. "You takethe first bite and you think, 'This isn't right.' Then with the second bite,'That's OK.' And by the third bite you're thinking, 'That's pretty good!' "
Heritage foods. America's growing love affair with its sometimesforgotten foods and animal breeds was on full view at the show. One such foodwas black walnuts, the robust-tasting American walnut species that grows mostlyin the Southeast. Shelling the walnuts stains the hands, and anything theytouch, black. Well-known to bakers in the Southeast, the nut is making inroadselsewhere. David Hammons is the fourth generation of his family to run HammonsBlack Walnuts in Stockton, Mo. Each year his company sells 2 million to 3million pounds of black walnuts, depending on the crop. They aren't growncommercially. They're wild and hand picked. Sixty-five percent come fromMissouri, where harvesting black walnuts is a nice income addition for locals,Hammons said. "We buy a lot of people's Christmas when we buy walnuts fromthem."
Herbs in drinks. Herbal drinks are big this year but far from thecommon mint and chamomile tea. New taste combos came from Numi Organics ofOakland, which had Broccoli Cilantro Tea; Wild Poppy Juice in Los Angeles, whosebooth featured Blood Orange Chili Juice; and Victoria's Kitchen, which hadLicorice Mint Almond Water.
Spicy sweet. Salt has been showing up in sweets for several years; seasalt caramels and chocolates are available seemingly everywhere. Now hot ismigrating into the candy world. Gourmet Thyme in St. Paul featured cayenneshortbread. Nuttyness in Oakland, had orange cayenne marzipan. Poco DolceConfections in San Francisco had peanut brittle infused with chilies. And fromBurlington, Vt., came Lake Champlain Chocolates' Spicy Aztec with cayenne,pumpkin seeds and cinnamon.
Not quite a trend, but heartwarming, was Christmas Milk, an ultra-pasteurizedeggnog available seasonally. It got its name when Heidi and Shane Fausel ofFrisco, Texas, adopted their son. He'd been in foster care before he came tothem, and as Christmas approached he kept talking about a drink he rememberedhaving in the home of one family he'd lived with. He didn't know what it wascalled, only that it "tasted like Christmas." The Fausels let him try everydrink they could think of, but none of it was what he remembered.
Then Shane brought home eggnog. The boy took a drink and said, "That's it!It's Christmas Milk."
The Fausels decided to create a company around Christmas Milk, which theylaunched in 2011. A percentage of all sales goes to agencies that help childrenin state care programs find families to adopt them.